Twitter puts all its chips on lead generation

Twitter advertisers are dealing out discounts in exchange for your email address. Are Twitter Cards a safe bet? Read this first before you go all in.

Anonymous tracking is already a multi-billion-dollar industry, but it’s peanuts to what’s coming next. The real money on the Internet is in lead generation. Companies will happily cough up large stacks of Ben Franklins to get the actual identities of people who are maybe/kinda/sorta interested in buying their stuff.

Forget anonymity or even pseudonymity. Lead Gen is all about personally identifiable information. They can’t sell sell you something if they don’t know your name. They can’t harangue you with deals and offers too good to pass up if they don’t have your email addresses or phone number. And once they have your names and contact info, savvy marketers will gather as much other data as possible about you – like your household incomes, purchase histories, activities, club memberships – to make smarter choices about whom to target.

You know – the kind of data that companies like Acxiom have by the truckload and that Facebook desperately wants to collect.

Now Twitter has entered the lead generation game. On Wednesday it announced Twitter Cards, which is a way for its marketers to take the next step beyond Promoted Tweets into actually connecting with potential customers.

They look like this:

priceline on twitter 600p.png

By clicking the Sign Up and Save! button, I just sent Priceline my name, Twitter handle, and email address with one tap of my finger. (Of course, they already have that stuff – I’ve been using Priceline since the days when Shatner was still wearing that ridiculous perm.) It turns out that clicking that button automatically adds me to Priceline’s email subscriber lists – something that isn’t mentioned anywhere on that card.

Twitter has been running beta tests with other advertisers like Full Sail University and NewRelic for a while now; yesterday it opened up Twitter Cards to anyone else who wants to give it a whirl. I expect several to dip their toes over the next few months. And if they’re successful? A small tsunami of Twitter lead-gen deals within a year. Our tweetstreams could be flooded with them.

Of course this is all voluntary. Nobody’s forcing you to sign up. And you’re getting something of value in return for your data, so it’s a win-win, right? Well, maybe. Remember that once you share that data, it doesn’t belong to either you or Twitter; it belongs to the site you shared it with, and they can do pretty much whatever they want with it. Most lead gen schemes on the Internet make money by selling your data over and over and over again. Twitter requires companies to post a link to their privacy policies, but it doesn’t have any control over what those policies say.

Today Twitter is asking me to share my name and email address. What about tomorrow? Twitter also has my phone number, so I can tweet via text message, as well as my location information. What’s to keep them from including that on my lead gen card when I click Sign Up? Nothing at all.

When it comes to user privacy, Twitter is among the best tech companies going, so it might well have strict rules about what data can be requested or how it will police the companies doing lead generation via Twitter Cards. But I can find nothing in Twitter’s Ad Guidelines prohibiting the collection or use of this information.

In fact, I expect location-based marketing to be a huge component of this. In-store offers sent to your phone are already here. Twitter is just another delivery mechanism, one that happens to have an enormous critical mass from the get go.

The thing about lead gen is that it’s best served hot. A sales pro with a fish on the hook wants to reel it in as quickly as possible. So if you express interest in a product or service, you can expect to hear from the people selling it quite directly. Regular readers will recall when I filled out lead generation forms for online schools, my phone started ringing in minutes.

Imagine if you clicked Like on something or Favorited a Tweet and two minutes later your phone rang with one of those Glengarry Glen Ross sales sharks on the other end of the line. It hasn’t happened yet, but it could.

Remember, ABC: Always Be Careful. Something to think about the next time you are tempted by what seems like a sweet deal.

Got a question about social media or privacy? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blogeSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

Now read this:

Web trackers are totally out of control

Further adventures in data mining, or welcome to my Lear Jet Lifestyle

Four reasons why Do Not Track turned into Do Not Trust

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